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Wifi-enabled thermostats can deliver substantial efficiency benefits when they’re used, but the trick is expanding deployment to as many households as possible. Broadening the range of wifi thermostats that can link up to any utility’s demand response program could help to achieve that.

Home thermostat technology has made evolutionary leaps and bounds, such as the transition from one-way to two-way communication with the utility, and from manual to remote control via smart phone app. As we reported previously, Honeywell data indicate that over 80% of homeowners with the company’s wifi-enabled thermostats manage them via mobile app. 

And expanding the use of wifi-enabled thermostats that allow homeowners to connect to demand response programs – programs that offer utility customers incentives to cut their consumption during peak demand times - could yield substantial energy efficiency benefits.  If 25% of US homes with central air conditioning used technology similar to Honeywell’s wifi-enabled thermostats to ease implementation of DR programs, the country could temporarily reduce electricity demand by up to 19 gigawatts during times of peak use, according to the company.

Not all wifi-enabled thermostats are compatible with all DR programs, which limits the ability of customers to participate in these programs. But this is beginning to change. Honeywell announced this morning that its entire suite of wifi-enabled thermostats now has the capacity to link up to any US utility’s DR program.

“The full suite of Honeywell wifi thermostats will be able to receive a software upgrade that will allow any homeowner to participate in a utility program, assuming the utility offers this program,” Paul Carp, Market Manager of Honeywell Smart Grid Solutions, told Breaking Energy.

And all of these thermostats – from the most basic to the most advanced, which is voice-activated – will be available at retailers across the country. “Retailers – Home Depot, Lowe’s, Amazon, all the way down to your local hardware store – would have access to these devices, which are already DR-ready,” Carp said.

“Previously, electric companies would give customers technology to participate in an energy-savings program; however, there was limited choice and the devices came directly from the utility. Homeowners can now buy any Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostat, from a retail store or contractor, and enroll,” Carp said.

The opportunity to participate in DR programs will expand even to customers with wifi-enabled thermostats whose local utilities do not yet offer them. “If the utility wants to take those points and turn it into a utility program, we can remotely upgrade that device so that they can participate in those programs,” Carp said.

Expanding Deployment

One of Honeywell’s previous experiences with mass deployment of smart thermostats, which involved a multi-year recruitment effort for Baltimore Gas and Electric, suggests that when the technology is made more readily available to customers, they use it at far higher rates. While residential DR participation rates generally average around 7-10%, rates in the Baltimore G&E service area are greater than 35%, a figure Carp called “astronomical”.

But even with widespread deployment of smart thermostats, utility participation will still be critical to maximizing their effectiveness in reducing energy consumption. Among variables that can affect how many customers opt to buy and use wifi-enabled “smart” thermostats include utility incentives, such as rebates for smart thermostat purchases.

How a utility implements DR programs also matters. Some shed strategies are less invasive than others. Homeowners generally are not even aware of cycling – in which an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) unit runs 50% of the time over a multi-hour window – or a temperature offset of a few degrees, said Carp. But if a utility raises a home thermostat by a large amount, for example, by 9 degrees farenheit, then the customer is more likely to notice.

The utility’s goal in offering a DR program – whether to meet regulatory standards, mitigate peak demand charges, or provide customers with a greater level of service – can dictate how it is structured, according to Carp. But low customer satisfaction is as good an argument as any for providing the customer with more options, and getting him or her more involved.

“A recent study about customer satisfaction with utilities showed that it’s at a low point, and some of that has to do with the reliability challenges with storms, etc,” he said. “Enabling the utility to offer that control back to the customer is a new concept. The utility is providing a new type of customer service.”

Beyond bringing more customers into play for potential participation in DR events, wider availability of wifi-enabled thermostats may encourage more utilities to develop DR programs. “If you start giving the utility a lot more options – six of seven wifi thermostats with a range of prices and features – it gives them more options to potentially provide a service for their customers,” Carp said.

Comments

  • Tom G.

    I had to laugh when I saw the picture associated with this article. Outside 78 F and inside 73 F. You have got to be kidding me, LOL. Here in the desert Southwest outside temperatures normally run 105-115 F outside while most people keep indoor temperatures at about 77-78 F. Of course not everyone lives in the desert or even likes the desert but for those of us who do love the dry hot air it can be heaven. And don’t forget that when others are shoveling snow we are enjoying boating, fishing or just hanging on the patio in shorts BBQing something.. What is the old saying; different strokes for different folks. Pretty much says is all for me.
    But this posting is not about me or some desert location. It is about one of the energy hogs we enjoy in the United States called Air Conditioners [AC].

    The average size of an AC installed on most American homes is probably rated at about 24,000 to 42,000 btu’s [2 to 3.5 tons]. AC units in that size range probably cover 95% of all 2, 3 and 4 bedroom homes in America. So just what’s wrong with these units. Well for one thing they are extremely inefficient. The industry has developed a rating system called a SEER or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. The higher the SEER rating number the more efficient the AC unit is. Currently the minimum SEER rating that can be sold is 14 SEER depending on what, when and where you buy however older 13 SEER models can still be purchased in some locations and through online suppliers.

    For every one [1] point improvement in SEER value the energy consumed is reduced by about 6%. So as a homeowner if you purchased a high efficiency unit of say 18 SEER and your neighbor purchased a unit rated at 14 SEER you would consume about 24% less electricity than your neighbor [4 SEER points X 6%].

    But this is only part of the story. I certainly applaud demand response efforts and programmable thermostats since they do have a place in our energy strategy and have one in my home. But did you know that today you can buy AC units that have efficiency ratings up to 23 SEER. That would result in our theoretical neighbor consuming about 54% less energy. That my friends is what I call a GOOD neighbor.
    The draw back is of course cost. The cost of a 23 SEER unit can be very costly and air conditioning contractors have no incentive to either sell or install these types of units. In addition, the AC industry doesn’t have an motivation either. As a country we just keep on doing the same old thing over and over again expecting some different type of outcome. Heard that before haven’t you, LOL.

    It is not this way in much of Europe and Asia. In those countries “inverter” style AC unit are common. These units use variable speed compressors that vary the output of the AC unit based on actual cooling needs. Gone are the days of – now its hot and then it is cold. And these Inverter style units have other advantages. They usually come as packaged units in two parts with the noisy compressor unit mounted outside and the quieter fan unit mounted inside. And frequently they are designed to service the needs of only about 1 or 2 rooms. This makes zoned cooling possible further reducing cost since you are not cooling rooms that are used infrequently. There are of course ground mounted AC units that are inverter units and look just like any other AC unit. Again cost is a big factor. Inverter style units cost more. But let’s talk about that for a minute.

    A standard AC unit is for the most part a pretty simple mechanical device. It has a compressor, a couple of fan motors and a large coil. the electronics are pretty much limited to a few relays, half dozen or so resistors and a couple of integrated circuits and some pressure sensors. Inverter style units are about the same with the exception they have an “inverter” which converts/inverts AC current to DC current and then back to AC current at a variable frequency so the speed of the compression can be optimised to the amount of cooling needed.

    This inverter technology is not some voodoo magic or new technology since we have been building these things for probably a 100 years. So if the technology is so common why haven’t we using it? Aren’t we interested in saving energy? Why aren’t consumers pounding on doors demanding action? And why haven’t some of our more powerful green lobbying groups taken up the challenge? Why aren’t some manufacturers promoting these units. Well the answer just might come down to something as simple as education.

    The average consumer just doesn’t have time to follow stuff like this. You know, baseball practice, grocery shopping, work, cooking, cleaning, laundry, visits to the doctor, who has time and besides I need to get back to my XBOX, ha ha. Oh sure a homeowner would like to save about 50% on their heating and cooling bill but many just don’t have time to study everything. This is where government and industry action is needed. We need incentives for manufacturers to manufacture more efficient inverter style units at a reasonable cost. We need incentives to encourage companies that sell and install those types of units. We need incentives that have drop dead dates and/or are keyed to specific efficiency levels.

    O,K. thats it; I done. Sorry for the length of this posting but sometimes its difficult for me to put some things into words. And please don’t get me started on Clothes Dryers that use the heated and cooled air from inside your home instead of outside air to dry clothes. Its like throwing money right out the window. And those single hose roll around AC units you can buy at Lowe’s and the Home Depot. You pay the electric company to cool your air and then used that same cooled air to cool the AC unit and promptly blow that air it outside. This has to be the most stupid product I have ever seen. If I had any authority at all, I would immediately outlaw these units. Instead buy a two hose unit that uses outside air to cool the unit and save yourself some money.

  • Paul

    Have three Honeywell’s installed, and planning to add two more later this year.

    DR would be great, but would rather see Honeywell sell DR directly to the grid, ISO-NE in my area, and leave me and my local utility right out of it.